By Erin Parker
On April 9, Editors BC will present Eve Rickert and Franklin Veaux and their five-hour workshop Tips and Tools for Self-Publishing and Small Presses. Eve and Franklin will guide participants through the entire book-publishing process from the perspective of a small publisher or self-publishing author and offer advice for navigating it successfully.
Eve is founder and senior writer/editor for Talk Science to Me Communications Inc. and managing editor for Thorntree Press. An Editors Canada Certified Professional Editor, she has been involved in editing and print production since 2002.
Franklin is senior designer and prepress specialist for Talk Science to Me Communications Inc. and design director for Thorntree Press. He has provided professional prepress and design services since 1992 for large clients all over the world.
Erin Parker, a member of Editors BC’s professional development committee, recently interviewed Eve and Franklin about the beginnings of their publishing careers, some of the challenges facing self-publishing authors and the editors who work with them, and predictions for the future of self- and small-press publishing.
Hello, Eve and Franklin! Thanks for chatting with us today.
Could you tell us about the beginnings of your professional journeys in the publishing industry?
Franklin: I started working prepress professionally in 1992, when I began doing digital prepress for a company called Printgraphics in Tampa, Florida. In 1994, I started working for Dimension, a high-end prepress and graphics service bureau in Tampa, where I did everything from image editing and trapping to film output and colour separation. I stayed there for the next seven years, and then started doing design work on my own. In 2013, Eve and I co-founded Thorntree Press, a book publishing company.
Eve: I started working as an editor in 2002, working my way through various volunteer positions, internships, and freelance gigs. In 2007, I did SFU’s editing certificate program, and in 2008 I spent a little over a year as an associate editor at D&M Publishers Inc. After a two-year stint using my science and writing background to manage the exhibits at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC, I founded Talk Science to Me in 2011 to provide full-service publication support, including editing and design, to people working in the sciences. In 2013, I co-founded Thorntree Press with Franklin. We’ve published five books to date, with three scheduled for this year and five for 2017.
Your April seminar will take participants on a tour of the many options available for self-publishing authors, from production, printing, and distribution to e-book and audiobook production, publicity, advertising, and sales. What’s one of the unique challenges for authors considering this route to publication?
Franklin: The biggest single challenge I see is distribution outside of Amazon. Self-published authors can hire people to do design work, production, and printing, and with the rise of e-book sales and print-on-demand services, production and printing are becoming easier and easier. But distribution to independent bookstores and libraries remains a challenge, even while the rest of the print production process has changed radically.
Eve: There’s also what I would call an almost predatory ecosystem of people ready to take money from self-publishing authors. You can easily spend thousands on ads and publicists without having much to show for it at the end, and it’s hard to know how to assess what will be most useful for you and your book. And if you’re not familiar with the industry, it can be easy to get taken advantage of—and hard to make good decisions about whom you can trust.
What’s one of the challenges—or one of the exciting opportunities—for editors who work with self-publishing authors or small presses?
Franklin: The rise of self-publishing has created both a challenge and an opportunity for editors. In the past, publishing houses have acted as curators of content, choosing only the best (or at least, the most profitable) submissions. With self-publishing, there’s no longer a gatekeeper. Far more writers are now trying their hand at self-publishing, but there’s also far more content out there that isn’t as high quality. Editors now potentially have far more clients they can reach, but those clients may be less experienced with the publishing process and may produce manuscripts of lower quality than what editors have traditionally seen in the past.
Eve: Small presses tend to have small budgets (this is one reason we crowdfund our books), and self-publishing authors often really have no idea how much the publishing process costs, or how long it takes. In my consulting role at Talk Science, I’ve had both authors and publishers want to get a finished manuscript to market in just a couple of months. Also, while some small presses are incredibly well run by experienced people, there’s a lot of variation in the experience levels of most people running small presses. Sometimes you get people who don’t have a lot more experience (and sometimes less) than self-publishing authors. So you can often find yourself in the role of educating the client—and they don’t always want to listen, especially when you’re telling them they need to spend money or time.
As a publisher at Thorntree Press who also hires editors, I would say that probably the biggest opportunity in working with us is that you can really bring a lot of extra value to your clients if you become familiar with the industry and expand your skill base. Our editors get involved with production, publicity, tour planning, website updates, and even design of publicity materials. Since we’re a small crew, we’re always eager to find out what else our editors can offer.
How do you envision self- and small-press publishing evolving over the next five years?
Franklin: I think technology-driven, bottom-up disruption of publishing will continue. New distribution channels, new marketing methods, new print and distribution technologies, and new financial models like Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, combined with less emphasis on traditional printing, are going to add up to a radically altered landscape in the future. A big challenge I see on the horizon is connecting with readers. As more and more people opt to bypass the traditional publishing industry to self-publish, more and more authors won’t have an easy way (or a marketing budget!) to reach their audiences, and readers will see greater and greater numbers of writers competing for their attention. It’s difficult to say what the solution to that problem will be. The traditional channels by which writers connect with their readers will have to change. I see a role for crowdsourcing information about new writers, for promotion in media like podcasts, and for writers reaching out to readers directly (especially in niche communities).
Eve: Self-publishing is levelling the playing field in a lot of ways. It’s easier than ever for anyone to get a book out, and the Internet and social media make it possible for almost anyone to find their audience if they know where to look. If you’re good at self-promotion, it can make a lot of financial sense to go it alone. But there’s still a certain cachet to being traditionally published, and a publisher can open doors for you that it’s hard to open for yourself unless you have a major breakout success. As publishers, we’re really conscious of needing to add value for our authors and of never taking for granted that they need us or couldn’t go it alone.
We’ve been experimenting with crowdfunding to pre-market books to test the size of the audience and fund production costs, which allows us to share a bigger portion of sales with our authors. As far as I know, we’re the only publisher that’s trying that; usually, when you see crowdfunding campaigns, it’s for a self-publishing author. We’re still negotiating exactly what those relationships look like—between us and the author, between us and the backers, and between the author and the backers. It’s actually a ton of work, and we often ask ourselves if we want to keep doing it or shift to a more traditional model. But we’re really interested in seeing where it takes us and what it does for the success of our books.
Could you share with us one of your personal or professional goals for this year?
Franklin: I would like to see Thorntree Press, the small publishing company I co-founded with Eve, build distribution in places outside North America. We’ve already begun working with European publishers to translate some of our catalogue into languages other than English and to get our books distributed outside North America, and both have proven to be more challenging than we expected them to be.
Eve: I’m really interested in building the diversity of Thorntree Press’s author roster. Of the 13 books either published in or lined up for 2014–2017, our first four years in business, 12 are either authored or co-authored by women, and about half are by people who identify as LGBT. We also have three anthologies that include works by people of colour, trans and non-binary people, and people with chronic illnesses or other disabilities. But we definitely share in the #PublishingSoWhite problem that exists in the book publishing industry as a whole: all of our authors to date have been white. I would really like to acquire more manuscripts from people who aren’t white, cisgender, able-bodied, and neurotypical. Specifically, starting in 2018, I want to see at least one-third of the books we publish be by people of colour.
Interesting answers, Eve and Franklin! Thank you for your time today. We’re looking forward to your workshop on April 9!
Erin Parker is a professional bookworm and full-time freelance editor of trade fiction and non-fiction for adults and young readers. She holds a PhD in English literature from the University of Toronto and has worked in publishing since 2013.
Images provided by Eve Rickert and Franklin Veaux.